Darryl L. DePriest is the seventh presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed Chief Counsel for the Office of Advocacy.
Prior to joining the Small Business Administration Office of...
October 2014 No. 424
Understanding the Gender Gap in STEM Fields Entrepreneurship
By Margaret E. Blume-Kohout, MBK Analytics, LLC
While it is generally understood that a gender gap exists in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, less research has been done on women entrepreneurs in the STEM fields. This report expands on the limited literature specific to women entrepreneurs within STEM fields. In addition, it aims to identify any significant factors or trends that may prove useful to those interested in policies directed at increasing participation of women entrepreneurs in STEM fields.
Recognizing that STEM fields contribute to high-quality job growth and economic innovation, Congress reauthorized the America Competes Act in 2010, increasing funding for STEM education and research. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey reports significant reductions in earnings gaps for STEM workers relative to all workers. These results were consistent across gender and race/ethnicity. Finally, beyond potential economic contributions, male and female STEM PhDs who engage in entrepreneurial ventures are significantly more likely to report high levels of job satisfaction. As such, STEM fields contribute to a wide spectrum of economic growth opportunities.
Small businesses drive a significant portion of the STEM economy.
Small businesses in the United States (firms with fewer than 500 employees) contribute significantly to vital arteries in the STEM and U.S. economy: research and development (R&D), patent production and job creation.
Gender differences in STEM entrepreneurship expose issues unique to female entrepreneurs in STEM fields while also echoing general gender gap issues in entrepreneurship and in STEM fields.
The gender gap persists for women-owned businesses. While women-owned businesses contribute significantly to the small business economy, they continue to be smaller, less profitable, and more short-lived than their male-owned counterparts.
The gender gap persists for women in STEM fields. Women have increased their representation in STEM graduate enrollment, but that increase has been uneven across STEM fields. While women have achieved parity for PhDs in biological and medical sciences, their enrollment continues to lag in some of the most entrepreneurial fields, such as bioengineering, mechanical, and civil engineering and materials science. Figures 1 and 2 show gender distribution in top entrepreneurial STEM fields.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since the 1970s women have increased their representation in STEM occupations, but that increase has been uneven across STEM fields. In 2011, women constituted 26 percent of STEM workers but remained significantly underrepresented in computer (27 percent women) and engineering occupations (13 percent women). The two fields represent approximately 82 percent of all STEM occupations (Figure 3). This uneven representation persists across field specializations as well. For example, women mechanical engineers represent only 6 percent of that workforce.
The gender gap persists for women-owned STEM businesses. Recent research indicates some incentives for STEM entrepreneurship may differ from incentives for non-STEM entrepreneurship. Beyond that, female entrepreneurs in STEM further differ from their male counterparts. Figure 4 shows gender distribution by key STEM fields and type of entrepreneurial activity.
In addition, in high-technology industries, women are more likely to start firms that provide research and consulting services and are less likely to start firms in semiconductor and aerospace manufacturing, navigational instruments or communications equipment, which may correlate with lower reported rates of R&D activities for women STEM PhDs. High-tech women-owned businesses may also be less likely to locate in geographic regions where they can take advantage of regional clustering of highly skilled labor and knowledge spillovers.
The key findings of this report suggest an effective strategy for addressing the gender gap in STEM fields’ entrepreneurship should be multifaceted in its approach. Figure 5 shows gender distribution in two key STEM entrepreneurship areas. Across all STEM fields, female PhDs have lower rates of patenting and entrepreneurship than do male PhDs. This difference is most pronounced in physics, astronomy and the computer sciences, in which women earned only 1 in 5 PhDs conferred by U.S. institutions in 2012, and in which women are disproportionately trained and employed by less research-intensive departments.
Overall findings and therefore policy implications vary widely across individual STEM fields and include gender differences in graduate training environments, employment sector, typical work activi-ties, professional seniority, and the impact of patent-ing activity on subsequent entrepreneurship.
The results identify four broad areas that matter for women entrepreneurs in STEM.
The ratio of women to men in STEM PhD programs matters.
Industry R&D funding and postdocs matter.
Gender differences in job satisfaction matter.
Parenthood matters in the short run.
This report examines multiple data sources in order to help explain persistent and systematic differences in STEM entrepreneurship between highly educated men and women across STEM fields. The results identify three broad areas for policy and practice.
Funding and training opportunities
Further research on occupational environments
Scope and Methodology
This study employs data from several nationally representative surveys conducted by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education, which collect data from individuals who earned PhDs from U.S. institutions, from their graduate departments and programs, and from the PhD-granting institutions that house those programs.
Additional data sources include National Research Council doctoral program rankings and patent records from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Descriptive summary tables and graphical representations are accompanied by multivariate econometric estimations to better distill and describe the correlates of STEM PhDs’ behavior.
This report was peer reviewed consistent with Advocacy’s data quality guidelines. More information on this process can be obtained by contacting the director of economic research by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (202) 205-6533.
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